woman in repose floating through the air surrounded by ghosts

Because I could not stop for Death—

by Emily Dickinson

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How do you evaluate the views of death presented in "Because I could not stop for death-"?

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Let us remember that death was a perennial theme in the poetry of Emily Dickinson, and clearly it is the central subject of this excellent poem. What is notable about this poem, however, is the way that our expectations of death are defied and challenged by her description of death as a ride in a carriage with an elderly gentleman who politely stops to collect her. Dickinson, in this sense, deliberately attempts to demystify death and treat it as a natural process rather than the fearsome and terrifying experience that so many believe it to be. In particular, consider the final stanza of this poem and the way that the speaker seems only mildly surprised that they have actually died and have begun their journey on into the next life:

Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

The wonder and surprise of the speaker is notable as she only seems to realise that she has died towards the end of the poem. Death then, in this poem, is presented as something that creeps up on you when you least expect it and takes you by surprise. It is not something that is threatening, however, but a profoundly natural process that clearly is just part of the cycle of life.

It is important to remember that this poem presents just one aspect of death, and it is very important to look at Dickinson's poems thematically to discuss her treatment of other aspects of death. However, in this poem, Dickinson seems to tame or deliberately demystify one of the most unknowable human experiences by deliberately describing it to be an activity that everybody could relate to.

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